Encoding Variables, Evaluation Criteria, and Evaluation Methods for Data Physicalisations: A Review

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleContributedpeer-review



Data physicalisations, or physical visualisations, represent data physically, using variable properties of physical media. As an emerging area, Data physicalisation research needs conceptual foundations to support thinking about and designing new physical representations of data and evaluating them. Yet, it remains unclear at the moment (i) what encoding variables are at the designer’s disposal during the creation of physicalisations, (ii) what evaluation criteria could be useful, and (iii) what methods can be used to evaluate physicalisations. This article addresses these three questions through a narrative review and a systematic review. The narrative review draws on the literature from Information Visualisation, HCI and Cartography to provide a holistic view of encoding variables for data. The systematic review looks closely into the evaluation criteria and methods that can be used to evaluate data physicalisations. Both reviews offer a conceptual framework for researchers and designers interested in designing and evaluating data physicalisations. The framework can be used as a common vocabulary to describe physicalisations and to identify design opportunities. We also proposed a seven-stage model for designing and evaluating physical data representations. The model can be used to guide the design of physicalisations and ideate along the stages identified. The evaluation criteria and methods extracted during the work can inform the assessment of existing and future data physicalisation artefacts.


Original languageEnglish
Article number73
JournalMultimodal Technologies and Interaction
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jul 2023

External IDs

Scopus 85166235603
Mendeley c8925633-abaf-35ac-9ec6-04418b2b5c17



  • human–data interaction, evaluation methods, physical variables, design process, data physicalisation, evaluation criteria, embodied interaction with data, physical interaction, encoding variables, data physicalisation design model

Library keywords